In 2021 the number of UK billionaires on The Sunday Times Rich List rose by 24, taking the total number to a record 171. They’re not the only ones to have got richer during the pandemic, either. While the pandemic wrought havoc on many incomes and livelihoods, on average, the finances of Britain’s wealthiest households surged by more than £50,000, giving some families extra funds to spend on travel. As boosters continue to be rolled out, and the prospect of travel gets more tantalising, here are the key trends to look out for when planning.
Main photo: Grand Anse beach on La Digue island, Seychelles (Alamy)
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1. Health tourism
Even before Covid turned the world upside down, health had become key to modern-day travellers; from 2015 to 2017 the wellness tourism market grew from $563bn to $639bn, or 6.5 per cent annually — twice as fast as tourism overall, according to the American NGO, the Global Wellness Institute. In the luxury market, because high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) spent so much during the pandemic on their health — 20 per cent more than pre-pandemic, according to Bupa — hotels and tour operators have had to think quickly about how to integrate wellness into their offerings.
While some hotels have expanded their gyms and spas, or introduced yoga, pilates, meditation classes or forest bathing as standard, others have introduced specialist packages overseen by health professionals. There are now dozens of high-end retreats and hotels providing specialist health holidays — whether that’s nature-themed holistic retreats at Kamalaya in Thailand, fitness retreats at Canyon Ranch in Massachusetts or The Ranch Malibu, health-reset regimes at La Reserve in Switzerland and Villa Stephanie in Germany, or a full medical programme overseen by doctors at Waldhotel or Sha. For those who want an element of wellness included throughout their holiday, Abercrombie & Kent have even started creating bespoke wellness itineraries, bringing in specialists every step of the journey, from yoga teachers to nutritionists.
2. Exclusive escapes
Some travellers are revelling in new-found freedoms — splashing out on Michelin-starred restaurants, cocktails, palatial suites and nightclubs — while others are still cautious, according to Julia Maury, head of Scott Dunn Private, whose coveted little black travel book is a compendium of the world’s most exclusive hideaways, including everything from yachts and villas to private suites and remote islands. “A lot of people only want to travel if they can control their environment,” she says. “Travelling in bubbles, on their own, to remote places, makes them feel safer.”
The safety of travelling in bubbles is also responsible for the strongest sales of yachts in four years, according to Mark Elliott of the yacht broker IYC, which sold $450 million worth of yachts in 2020. “It’s a way that people can control their environment while travelling in total comfort.”
Islands, too, have never been more popular, as WFH turns to WFA (Working From Anywhere), according to Farhad Vladi, who has sold more than 3,000 over his 50-year career. Even when buyers couldn’t personally view islands, he adds, they bought them from pictures alone. “In a pandemic an island is the ultimate self-isolation spot,” he says.
3. Private jets
Private jets may emit more than 20 times more carbon per passenger mile than commercial flights, but they have never been more popular; June 2021 was the busiest month for private jet travel since 2007 according to the flight-tracking specialist Argus TraqPak. Sales are equally buoyant: the International Aircraft Dealers Association reported a 52 per cent rise in second-quarter sales in 2021, and a report by Global Jet Capital forecasts sales of $162.1 billion in new and used private jets by 2025.
Reasons for the rise, says Marine Eugène, European MD of Flexjet and PrivateFly, include “the return of business travel; easing restrictions; changing patterns in leisure flying; and the continued wellbeing appeal of private aviation to avoid the health risks of crowds and shared cabins — both for families and for employees”.
Although NetJets clearly recognises the impact of private jets on carbon emissions, and has launched a carbon offsetting scheme and committed to buying sustainable and waste aviation fuel, the company is adding 100 more planes to its 760 existing models. This is primarily, it says, “because demand is exceeding all other highs in NetJets’ 57-year history”.
4. Ethical holidays
The wealthy are becoming increasingly aware that the world’s richest 1 per cent are responsible for double the carbon emissions of the poorest 50 per cent. Hence the rise in journeys that give back in some way, either directly by visiting communities, eco-projects and sustainable hotels, or by getting involved in philanthropic organisations that benefit communities and conservation on the ground.
Trips might range from an Explorations Company safari to Kenya, with all profits going to a local trust, to a bespoke philanthropic tour with Wild Philanthropy founder Will Jones to landscapes that need rewilding, to a Pelorus superyacht trip to help scientists in their reef research. What’s become apparent, says Justin Waterbridge of Steppes Travel, is that “clients really understand the power of travel as a force for good. They want holidays that are not only fulfilling, fun and transformational but are of tangible benefit to the places they visit, the people they meet and the wildlife they encounter”.
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5. Regenerative travel
In the past couple of years, the global tourist industry has been hit badly by Covid, with approximately four trillion dollars wiped off the world economy, hundreds of companies destroyed, and communities left without incomes and wildlife parks with thousands of animals to protect and no money to do so. It explains why increasing numbers of wealthy travellers are opting to rebook with companies who feed profits back to places they are needed most.
All of the trips organised by the UK’s first ethical company, Responsible Travel, or its newest, Joro, a certified B-Corp travel company and founder of the Conscious Travel Foundation, do some good — whether that’s taking a scientist on a yacht to map reefs or helping to build a library for a remote school. As its co-founder Henry Comyn puts it: “People don’t always need high-adrenaline trips to have fun. They want to have meaningful adventures that give back to people or the planet.”
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Deborah Calmeyer, whose Roar Africa journeys are created to give back to communities, says every trip she has done this year has been incredibly rewarding. “I have seen first-hand just how grateful and appreciative the people are and how much tourism means to them. In some cases, people have come up and thanked us and said heart-wrenching things like ‘My children are back at school thanks to you’. You begin to realise the lifeline that tourism is for the communities, camps and conservation efforts.”
For Hilary Bradt, the founder of Bradt travel guides, there is only one way to travel — and that is responsibly. “If people really want to save the planet, and the people who populate it,” she says, “they should book a flight to a country that needs them.”
Children undoubtedly learn from doing and become more curious as a result of having had meaningful experiences with people and in places that stimulate their minds. Hence the number of high-end operators who have started to create holidays that enrich guests through learning, whether that’s working with scientists out at sea, learning about sociology through tribal encounters, understanding conservation on days out with rangers, watching the stars with an astronomer — or just developing new skills with expert guides. Black Tomato’s new Field Trips, for instance, which cover eight disciplines and 64 different interactions, might “support subject matters for college and inspire future careers or more simply spark joy from learning outside the classroom and away from screen,” says its co-founder Tom Marchant.
Henry Cookson of Cookson Adventures might arrange a private yacht, with key scientists on board, to give lessons while doing research. Or Expert Africa might put together a safari to meet researchers and scientists who are specialists in one creature so guests gain expertise — in desert lions, for instance, in Namibia, or rhino in Kenya. As a spokesman for Abercrombie & Kent puts it: “Travel is often perceived to be the perfect way to go beyond the boundaries of the everyday, which is why there is a particular demand for experiences that help wealthy travellers evolve as human beings.”
7. British house parties
Friends and families are desperate to reconnect and have fun following numerous lockdowns over the past two years — hence the Roaring Twenties-style bars popping up in cities alongside decadent private members’ clubs and speakeasies. For fun-lovers still wary of public areas, glamorous, Gatsby-style house parties in which a bubble of vaccinated family and friends can flex their party muscles have become the next best thing. For others, the dream party pad might be a Scottish castle from Loyd & Townsend Rose, or a stylish, interior-designed country pad through Unique Homestays.
If it’s a domestic, cosy feel you seek — whether that’s a smart barn or a modernist beach house — there’s Airbnb Luxe, Stay One Degree and The Luxury Travel Book and, for more cosy pads, Oliver’s Travels and Luxury Cotswolds Rentals. All of whom, naturally, can arrange staff and organising — whether that’s someone just to fill a fridge or a gang to hang up the disco ball, shake the martinis and get the party rolling.